Midnight Specialists: Midnites For Maniacs - Page 2

The king of midnight movies in SF: Jesse Hawthorne Ficks

Every year, wherever I was, I'd go back to Sundance and work in different areas of the festival."

A self-taught cinephile, Ficks dropped a film history course at Portland State University after a professor misidentified The Untouchables (1987) as a Martin Scorsese film. After graduation he moved to San Francisco and began working at the 4 Star Movie Theatre, where he learned to be a projectionist and launched Midnites for Maniacs in 2002. At first the series chiefly drew from owner Frank Lee's impressive stash of martial arts films — until a certain masterwork known as The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (1987) came along.

"I had been looking for 35mm prints at the time, and I ran into this Garbage Pail Kids print," Ficks remembered. "Frank let me play it, but he had no clue what it was. This very first screening of Garbage Pail Kids, we had 250 people — and the theater only holds 198. It blew his mind! Garbage Pail did so well that he just started giving me free rein."

Ficks's cardinal rule for his screenings — which actually start early in the evening, with the final film unspooling at midnight — is that every film must be shown on 35mm. "You can have a billion ideas of 'I think we should do summer camp movies.' But the director of Sleepaway Camp [1983] cannot be found, and he has the only print. So until I can track him down, there's no way to screen Sleepaway Camp. I know that you could screen it on video or DVD, but I think it makes it part of the challenge and the excitement that everyone's coming out to see an antique. You're part of the history."

Midnites for Maniacs made its Castro debut in January 2006, when a packed house cheered Ficks's triple bill of roller-skating movies: Roller Boogie (1979), Xanadu (1980), and Skatetown, USA (1979). "It was unbelievable, and I was thinking, 'Maybe only in San Francisco.' "

Ficks sees the city as big enough — and full of enough diverse film fans — to support all of its various midnight gatherings. He has only praise for Midnight Mass's Peaches Christ, though on occasion their events have fallen on the same night.

"Peaches is amazing at her performances," he said. "You can get caught up with a reenactment of the swimming pool [scene] in Showgirls [1995]. And it's unbelievable." He views San Francisco as "a true midnight culture. There are so many films in San Francisco at midnight. I think it's totally reinventing the culture."

And, for the record, what is it about Ski School that makes it this ultimate film fan's ultimate favorite? Talking about the movie — which he'll probably never get to show at Midnites, since it's only available on video — makes Ficks reflective. "I think I'm always interested in that movie you were obsessed with as a kid. We're the video generation. We have access to so many more films than anyone else before us. We create these weird personal theaters in our house, with these videos we can rewind and watch over and over again. So Ski School, and movies like it, I go to those movies when times are rough. They're just like a record, or like a song. And it's an hour-and-a-half song."

Ficks — who said he's only walked out of one film in his life, As Good as It Gets (1997), for being "so middle of the road it didn't matter if I watched it or not" — is determined to carry his Ski School philosophy over to his film series.

"I think when people come out to Midnites for Maniacs, it's way more important that they have a personal relationship with the movie.

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